MFA Fatigue Attack: Navigating The Rising Security Challenge For SMBs

January 2, 2024

Dan Sharp

President & CEO

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) face a myriad of challenges. One such emerging threat is the MFA fatigue attack. This subtle yet potent danger capitalizes on human error rather than system vulnerabilities, making it a unique adversary in the digital world.

Today, we'll tackle the critical aspects of understanding and preventing MFA fatigue attacks, providing SMBs with the knowledge and tools to defend against this modern cybersecurity menace.

Multi-factor authentication: More than just a password

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security system that goes beyond just using a password. It requires users to provide multiple pieces of evidence before they can access an account or system.

This method is like having an extra lock on your door. Even if someone knows your password (like a key), they still need another form of verification to get in. However, attackers are constantly finding new ways to break through these additional layers of security.

For small and medium-sized businesses, it's vital to not only use MFA but also understand how it works and its potential weaknesses.

MFA usually involves a combination of a password, something you have, like a security token, and something confirming your identity, like a fingerprint. While this makes hacking into an account much harder, it's not foolproof. Hackers are constantly developing new strategies to bypass MFA.

That's why SMBs need to stay updated on the latest security trends and threats. Keeping your MFA system updated and educating your employees about its importance are key steps in maintaining strong cybersecurity.

Multi-factor authentication

MFA fatigue attacks: Understanding the silent threat

MFA fatigue attack is a new form of cyber threat that cleverly uses push notifications to trick users. Here's how it works! A hacker, aiming to gain unauthorized access, bombards the user with a series of MFA notifications.

This tactic is often referred to as "MFA bombing." The idea is simple yet effective. By overwhelming the user with continuous login verification requests, the attacker hopes that, eventually, the user will approve one of these notifications.

In such attacks, the user’s phone keeps receiving push notification after push notification, all asking for verification of a login attempt.

The goal of the hacker is to wear the user down. They are betting on the chance that the user, tired of the constant interruptions, will hit 'approve' just to stop the notifications. This moment of weakness is what the hacker is waiting for.

The use of MFA fatigue attacks is a type of social engineering. A method where the attacker manipulates the user into giving away their credentials, in this case, their approval for a login attempt.

Unlike traditional attacks where the hacker might try to figure out a username and password, here they rely on the user to unwittingly help them. Once the user approves one of these MFA requests, the hacker has successfully used their credentials to gain access.

Understanding MFA fatigue attacks

Detection and response: Staying one step ahead

To effectively prevent an MFA fatigue attack, the focus should be on early detection and swift response. Recognizing unusual or suspicious patterns in multi-factor authentication requests is crucial.

For instance, if you notice an unexpected flood of MFA prompts, it could be a sign of an attempted hack. Small and medium-sized businesses need to be equipped with the right tools and knowledge to spot these red flags quickly. Being alert to these cues is the first step in thwarting MFA fatigue attacks.

Moreover, it's important to have a plan for MFA fatigue attack prevention. Once you identify that something unusual is happening, such as receiving too many MFA prompts in a short period, it's essential to act immediately.

This could involve verifying the authenticity of each login attempt or enhancing the security protocols around multi-factor authentication. The quicker you respond to these potential threats, the better you can protect your business from becoming a victim of an MFA fatigue attack.

Detection and response

MFA fatigue attack prevention plan

To effectively combat this MFA attack, businesses must develop a comprehensive MFA fatigue attack prevention plan. This plan should encompass a range of strategies, from technological safeguards to employee education, aiming to fortify the organization against the cunning tactics of cybercriminals.

1. Educate and train employees

One of the best practices is educating staff about this type of cyberattack. Training should focus on recognizing the signs of an MFA attack, such as an overload of authentication requests, and the importance of not approving MFA requests that seem suspicious.

2. Implement advanced MFA solutions

Use MFA solutions that offer additional security features, like a security key or biometric authentication. These methods are less susceptible to fatigue attacks compared to traditional 2FA methods that rely solely on SMS or email.

3. Limit the number of MFA attempts

Configure your MFA system to limit the number of authentication requests sent to a user. This helps in reducing the attack surface and prevents attackers from spamming users with requests.

4. Regular review of MFA protocols

Regularly review and update MFA protocols to keep up with the latest attack methods. This might include analyzing the patterns of MFA requests and identifying potential red flags indicative of an MFA fatigue attack.

5. Phishing awareness and dark web monitoring 

Since MFA fatigue attacks often start with a phishing attempt, training employees to recognize and report phishing attempts is crucial. Additionally, monitoring the dark web for leaked credentials can provide early warning of potential attacks.

6. Robust sign-in procedures

Strengthen sign-in procedures by incorporating multiple authentication vectors, ensuring that even if one vector is compromised, others can still protect access to sensitive data.

7. Monitor for suspicious activity

Another MFA fatigue attack prevention plan is to use threat detection tools to monitor for unusual login attempts or patterns of MFA requests. This can help in identifying an MFA fatigue attack early, potentially before the attacker gains access.

8. Respond quickly to incidents 

Have a response plan in place for potential MFA fatigue attacks. This includes procedures for how to initiate the MFA protocol lockdown and revoke granted access if an attack is suspected.

MFA fatigue attack prevention plan

The 2022 Uber cybersecurity breach: A lesson in vigilance

In 2022, a major cybersecurity incident at Uber drew attention to the risks of sophisticated cyber attacks. This breach carried out through what's known as a social engineering attack, involved tricking an Uber employee into giving away their login details.

The attacker, believed to be part of a hacker group, cleverly convinced the employee to approve a request for multi-factor authentication. This incident shows that even when companies use extra security measures like MFA, smart hackers can still find ways to break in.

The importance of understanding MFA attacks

The Uber breach wasn't about flooding the employee's phone with endless MFA requests. Instead, it was about making one fake request seem real enough to fool the person into thinking it was legitimate.

This kind of attack takes advantage of how people naturally trust the security systems in place and don't always suspect that a single MFA prompt could be dangerous. It's a reminder that MFA, while effective, isn't foolproof if the users aren't aware of these sneaky tactics.

Lessons learned for businesses

For businesses using MFA, the Uber incident is a wake-up call. It shows that beyond having good technology, teaching employees about different types of cyber attacks is crucial.

Everyone needs to know that hackers might try to trick them into giving access to sensitive information, and not every MFA request should be trusted immediately. It's not just about protecting against a flood of fake requests but also being smart about each request that comes in.

This event highlights the ongoing need for businesses to keep updating their cybersecurity practices and keep their teams informed and cautious in the digital world.

Uber 2022 breach

Avoid MFA overload with an MSP partner

Partnering with a managed service provider (MSP) can be a game-changer for small and medium-sized businesses looking to protect themselves from MFA fatigue attacks, often referred to as MFA bombing. An MSP specializes in managing cybersecurity, including MFA security, and understands how these types of attacks work. 

By working with an MSP, businesses get help in setting up and managing their MFA systems. This includes monitoring the number of MFA requests sent to users and ensuring these requests are legitimate.

MSPs can also educate employees on how to recognize and respond to suspicious MFA push notifications, reducing the risk of someone accidentally giving attackers access to accounts or devices.

Additionally, MSPs can implement advanced authentication methods, like two-factor authentication, in a way that doesn't overwhelm users.

This partnership means you have experts who can swiftly respond to and manage threats, safeguarding your business's login credentials and sensitive data from sophisticated MFA bombing attacks.

MSP partner

Strengthen your defense against MFA fatigue attacks

MFA fatigue attack is a big cybersecurity challenge for SMBs today. These attacks fool people into letting hackers into their systems. It’s important to be careful and know about these risks. No one is safe, and even large corporations can be tricked. 

For businesses looking to protect themselves, it’s helpful to work with a managed service provider. An MSP can help manage your MFA systems and teach your team about these attacks. 

If you’re worried about MFA fatigue attacks and want to keep your business safe, get in touch with us. Let’s work together to build a stronger defense for your business.

Frequently asked questions

What is an identity-based attack?

Identity-based attacks, like MFA fatigue attacks, target individual users. In these attacks, a threat actor repeatedly sends MFA requests to a victim, hoping they'll approve one and grant access to their account. This method is a type of social engineering cyber attack, focusing on manipulating the victim to unknowingly assist the hacker.

What are some common signs of an MFA fatigue attack?

Common signs include receiving an unexpected barrage of MFA requests or notifications. If you haven't triggered these MFA prompts yourself, and they suddenly appear, it could indicate an ongoing attack.

Can MFA fatigue attacks be linked to larger cyber incidents?

Yes, MFA fatigue attacks can be part of larger cyber incidents. For example, the September 2022 Uber breach involved tactics similar to MFA fatigue attacks. These attacks are often components of broader strategies used by groups like Lapsus$.

What are the best practices to reduce the risk of MFA fatigue attacks?

Best practices include educating MFA users about these attacks, monitoring MFA applications for unusual activity, limiting the number of MFA requests sent, and using additional verification methods to authenticate login attempts. Implementing these strategies can help prevent unauthorized access to accounts.

How should one respond to an unexpected MFA request?

If you receive an unexpected MFA request, do not approve it. Verify if the login attempt is legitimate by checking if you or someone authorized is trying to access the account. Report the incident to your IT department or MFA provider for further investigation.